Leadership and Vulnerability

So many leaders I hear or read about seem to believe that if you are a leader, you have reached some magic pinnacle where you are all knowing—they seem incapable of not knowing the answer to a question or have lost the capability to show any sign of being vulnerable. It appears to me as if they see being vulnerable as “anti-leader”.

In reality, some of the strongest leaders I know are ones who readily admit they don’t have all the answers. Rather than appearing weak when saying they don’t know something, they send a message to their team that they are human and they are not perfect. They also feel they have to be right all the time! I’ve observed that showing vulnerability is sometimes more difficult for woman leaders who have had difficult roads to leadership.

I read the Corner Office column every Sunday in the “New York Times” business section. Each week a different leader is interviewed on a variety of topics. The August 10, 2014 interview was with Sarah Barnett, President of Sundance TV.

In the interview she says, “I’ve come to realize that, as a leader, it’s O.K. for me to fail in terms of my management at times. I think women are ridiculously hard on themselves about needing to be both nice and perfect in managing people.” I really like that she used the word “fail”—and I don’t think she really meant she isn’t successful. I think she meant it is ok to not be perfect and, in fact, when you show your team that you don’t have all the answers, it sends a message to them that they need to learn—you can be a success and still be learning and growing!

She also says, “…that conflict or even a failure of communication is something that’s not only survivable, but can get you to a more open and honest and trusting place.” How great is that for a very successful leader to say that she really wants to be in an open, honest, and trusting place at work? I love that and wish more leaders had her strength.

Ms. Barnett also says that one of her strengths is she likes ambiguity and shaping things. She says these are good skills in her current job which she believes is to “synthesize” ideas and concepts. Again, these are not words we typically hear from leaders so it is refreshing and honest!

How do you appear to your staff? Do you feel you have to know everything and be right all the time or do you allow your own vulnerabilities to show through?


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